Photography by Charles Briscoe-Knight

Walton Heath sparkles as Alfie plants flag on European summit

A week which began in sombre mood for Kent amateur, Alfie Plant, ended amid chaotic scenes of euphoria on the Old Course last Saturday as the 24-year-old captured an epic European Men’s Amateur Championship at the fifth


               

hole of a sudden-death play-off.

Just five days after his great-grandmother, Joyce, passed away at the age of 96, her great grandson paid a fitting tribute to the family matriarch by lifting the title at the expense of a two-pronged Italian challenge in the shape of Lorenzo Scalise and Luca Cianchetti.

Walton Heath was looking at her glorious best, bathed in warm early-evening sunshine as Plant, the 2016 Lytham Trophy winner from Sundridge Park, delivered the coup de grace at the conclusion of a thoroughly absorbing four days of top level amateur golf.

“What a brilliant place. I love it,” declared the new champion, who was immediately fast-tracked into the field for his first Open Championship at Royal Birkdale later this month ahead of the South of England Open Amateur, back at Walton Heath, from July 25-27.

“The greens are just fantastic and if you miss a putt, you can only blame yourself! I love coming here and both courses are terrific. I’ve played in the last two South of England events, missing the cut and playing all four rounds last time. Now that I’ve won the ‘European’, I have some scheduling issues but I hope to be back here.”

He added: “It was a sad day when my great nan passed away on Monday, but hopefully today will put a smile back on everyone’s faces.”

The smiles were certainly abundant all around Walton Heath as the tournament, won in the past by Sergio Garcia and Rory McIlroy, delivered a fitting finale at an appropriately manicured venue.

James Crampton, Championship Director, England Golf, was delighted with the quality of the field and the course. He said: “The course was in great condition, so thanks to Course Manager Michael Mann and his team for presenting it so well. We also had a top-quality field and their unanimously positive comments about the course simply reinforce the high esteem in which Walton Heath is regarded.”

The field of 144 amateurs, representative of 29 countries around the globe, delivered consistently high-quality golf over all four days, with 21-year-old Scalise leading after 18 holes with a round of 64. Another 64 on Thursday lifted Spain’s Victor Pastor into a share of first place at halfway alongside Jeremy Freiburghaus of Switzerland and Australian Dylan Perry.

With a round to go, Scalise, the Italian National Champion, was back in a share of the lead alongside Jeremy Gandon of France and another player under the Italian flag, Cianchetti, the defending champion and a familiar face at Walton Heath as the 2015 winner of the South of England. Plant, after rounds of 72, 66 and 67 was one behind.

Certainly, Plant did not lack for encouragement from his extended entourage of family and friends on a final day which saw Scalise and Cianchetti look favourites to lift the trophy approaching the closing stages. However, both bogeyed the final hole, as Plant struck an eight iron from 142 yards to four feet for a critical birdie. The trio tied on 15 under par, 273, and engaged in a three-hole play-off over the first, second and 18th.

Cianchetti, who returns to Walton Heath for another tilt at the South of England title later this month, misfired at the first and 18th and dropped out of what became a sudden-death affair. A fourth straight par for Plant and Scalise followed, but it was the young Englishman who prevailed at the fifth extra hole with his seven-iron onto the green and rapier-like birdie putt.

Both Italian golfers are in the field for the 2017 South of England Open Amateur and Scalise, gracious in defeat, said: “What an incredible course. In practice, I could not work it out, but just loved the way it grew on me. There is nothing like it in Italy, that’s for sure! You have to be accurate around here, or you won’t score well.”

Former European Tour professional and Italian Team Coach, Alberto Binaghi, added: “All the Italians here this week enjoyed the experience. We missed out in the end, but the guys will be back as this is a place we all enjoy returning to.”

Club Champion, David Boote, tied for 26th on 281 after rounds of 69-73-70-69 but was unable to get close to the leaders. All in all, however, there was cause for satisfaction for Walton Heath Members as the course achieved such a high approval rating. Also encouraging was the speed of play, assisted by The R&A’s initiative to adopt ‘Ready Golf’ which is designed to assist the place of play. Three-balls took just over 4 hours, 15 mintutes.

Stuart Christie, Club Secretary, commented: “We enjoyed working with the European Golf Association and England Golf immensely in helping to stage this tremendous championship. The weather was kind and we hope those players from 29 nations enjoyed the experience of playing Walton Heath’s Old Course, whether for the first time or if they had been here previously for the South of England. We will be delighted to see many of the competitors back here to experience both courses in our own event this month, and in the future.”

Full scores:

http://www.ega-golf.ch/event/european-amateur-championship